Apr. 17, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
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Working to Protect Public Health and Family-Sustaining Jobs

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With nearly 1.5 million Pennsylvanians unemployed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the House and Senate voted this week for legislation, which included my amendment to address the inequality of the governor’s business closures, that would require transparency and consistency in how the governor determines which businesses can continue to operate. 

Senate Bill 613 would not immediately or fully reopen the state’s economy. Instead, my amendment would simply utilize a nationally recognized standard to determine which businesses qualify as life-sustaining. Businesses deemed life-sustaining per those standards could continue operations if they can comply with federal mitigation guidelines and bring people back to work safely. Small businesses and their employees, self-employed workers, independent contractors and others should be given the opportunity to modify their operations and return to work. This would also allow them to continue providing for their families.

I believe certain businesses can and should operate safely by following social distancing and health guidelines. This would be achieved through my amendment to Senate Bill 613 that would require the governor to follow the most current Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce advisory list developed by the U.S Department of Homeland Security in determining if businesses are life-sustaining and should be allowed to operate.

Several states, including some of those surrounding the Commonwealth, are following the tried and tested federal guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pennsylvania should do the same. In fact, 44 states are following the Essential Critical Workforce Advisory guidelines as they pertain to construction and the number of cases and number of deaths in those states are lower than the six states not following the guidelines but have stricter limits in place.

Using these guidelines would also put businesses here in the Commonwealth on equal footing so the Wolf administration isn’t selecting which businesses can remain open and which would remain closed.

While we must continue to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously and do all we can to protect against its spread, we need to start taking steps now to plan a path forward for workers, business owners and the economy as well.

To read more of my thoughts on the bill, click here.

Other Legislative Action
Also this week, the House supported legislation – Senate Bill 841 – that would allow local governments to extend property tax discount periods and/or waive penalties or late fees, protect educational opportunities for low-income students by allowing educational tax credit contributions to be delayed until the end of the business tax year, save school districts money by allowing various contracts to be renegotiated for the period of the school closure, allow for remote notary services and authorize local governments to meet through authorized telecommunications devices for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

We also adopted a bill to help our vital emergency responders. House Bill 1189 would establish the Volunteer Emergency Responders Employer Tax Credit program for employers who allow an employee who serves with a volunteer emergency service organization to respond to an emergency call during work hours. The bill also would extend disability benefits for first responders to be covered in the event they contract COVID-19 in the line of duty.

To help better track cases of COVID-19, the bill would require health care facilities to provide specific demographic data about positive tests within three days of a diagnosis. The state Department of Health would then be required to publish publicly accessible reports with case statistics broken down by ZIP code.

Finally, the bill would extend the expiration of driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and parking placards for people with disabilities that are set to expire during the disaster declaration to 60 days after the declaration has ended.
Unemployment Compensation Update

The state has started to implement portions of the federal CARES Act changes to the unemployment compensation system. The good news is, claimants started to receive the extra $600 per week in compensation required under the law this week. The bad news is the state Department of Labor and Industry is saying it could be at least another week before the application for self-employed workers and independent contractors to apply for assistance is available. Please know that I share your deep frustrations over this delay and have repeatedly voiced those concerns to the administration.

If you are looking for more information about the CARES Act and its impact on unemployment compensation, click here. This page has general information on the new benefits available under the act as well as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance frequently asked questions and federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation frequently asked questions.

If you are unable to find answers to your questions about unemployment online, you are encouraged to contact the department by email at uchelp@pa.gov to avoid a long wait on the phone. Keep a copy of the email as a record of your contact.  
What’s New?

The Department of Labor and Industry has launched a new online COVID-19 job portal to help Pennsylvanians who are out of work find opportunities with life-sustaining businesses that are hiring. People seeking employment can visit www.PAcareerlink.pa.gov  and select the green “PA COVID-19 Jobs – Hiring Immediately” job portal banner to see active job openings. Selecting the “Apply Now” button for a listed position will redirect individuals to the employer’s website or email where they can apply directly with the employer and speed up the hiring process. Life-sustaining businesses can feature their job openings on the portal through an easy to use online form. Businesses must meet the criteria of a life-sustaining business and must have more than 10 job openings.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is offering two new tools to help people ensure they receive their economic impact payments authorized under the federal CARES Act. One tool is for people who don’t normally file a tax return (please note it is not necessary for people who receive Social Security retirement, disability or survivor benefits, or Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits to complete this form, unless you have qualifying children to claim). The tool for non-filers is available here.  The second tool is for people who file but need to update direct deposit or mailing address information, or to check your payment status and confirm payment type. That form is available here. Learn more about economic impact payments here.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is making temporary changes to Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to keep families enrolled in CHIP for the duration of the public health emergency and to ease access to medical services for children being screened or receiving treatment for COVID-19. Read more here.  

The Pennsylvania departments of State and Banking and Securities has issued some limited guidance about allowable activities related to residential real estate transactions that were initiated prior to the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration. Read the guidance memo here.  

Businesses that collect Pennsylvania sales tax will not have to make Accelerated Sales Tax (AST) prepayments over the next three months. That means businesses that normally have a monthly prepayment requirement will not be charged penalties for missing the prepayment deadline during this three-month period. Read more here. 
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